Health issues preoccupied the minds of those living in nineteenth-century England. According to historian Roy Porter, “Health- consciousness ran high in pre-modern England. People rarely ignored their physical well-being till they felt sick: life was too precarious, and medicine too feeble, to permit that luxury.”1Roy Porter, Health for Sale: Quackery in England 1660-1850, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p. 132. Britons were all too cognizant of the role disease and illness had in shaping or ending their lives. Diseases like typhoid, typhus, cholera, scarlet fever, and influenza could quickly reach epidemic proportions killing tens of thousands of people in a single season. Additionally, nutrition was poorly understood, the rise of industrialization resulted in occupational hazards, and the increase in population in the burgeoning cities led to sewage and waste problems, all contributing to sickness and medical ailments in the populace.2For a discussion of Briton's anxiety and obsession with health, see Chapters 1 & 2 in Bruce Haley, The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 3-45.
It was a satirist's job to provide humorous, and often biting, commentary on all the subjects of the day. Because health issues were so prevalent and Britons were so obsessed with health, the caricaturist found a wealth of material to use in examining disease, illness, medicine, and unorthodox healing methods in nineteenth-century Britain. The general public could easily identify with the medically-related cartoons the satirists produced; who hadn't felt sick, experienced the side effects of the popular medicines, or grown frustrated with the inefficacy of medical treatments and the high cost of medicine? With wit and cynical observation, the caricaturists elevated health issues to comical proportions, and the laughter their cartoons generated helped allay the public's anxiety over their physical well-being.
Buchan doesn't mention rubbing tallow, an animal fat, on the nose. Perhaps tallow was thought to assist the opening of the sinus cavities and provide relief for a stuffy nose.
His drink may be water-gruel sweetened with a little honey; an infusion of balm, or linseed sharpened with the juice of orange or lemon; a decoction of barley and liquorice with tamarinds, or any other cool, diluting, acid liquor. ABOVE all, his supper should be light; as small posset, or water-gruel sweetened with honey, and a little toasted bread in it. 7William Buchan, Domestic Medicine, New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985, p. 353.